Sapphira Vardon needs five thousand pounds to avoid a cruel marriage and a grim future, and there’s only one path for her. Don a mask and an assumed name, and risk everything to win at the gaming tables. First, though, she has to get through the door. Luckily she knows just whose name to drop.
Corin, Lord Elston, is curious to find out who used his name to gain entrance to Mother Brown’s whorehouse and gaming hell. The enigmatic woman who calls herself Lydia isn’t the sort of female usually found here. Behind her mask and heavy makeup, she’s obviously a respectable woman—who plays a devilish hand of cards.
Sapphira is desperate to keep her identity a secret, but Lord Elston’s devastating kisses and touches demand complete surrender. And once he learns the truth, there’s more at stake than guineas. Corin finds himself falling hard for a woman who’s poised to run. A woman who’s about to learn that he only plays to win…
A Betting Chance
In this game of hearts, winner takes all!
From Samhain Publishing
“I wish you’d trust me with your secret. I might be able to help,” Lord Elston said.
“I don’t know you.” Not in any recognized meaning of the word. The connection Sapphira felt to him had to be her imagination. He couldn’t feel it, not this wild needing.
“I think we should get to know each other better. I want you to trust me.” He touched her chin, his forefinger stroking her skin. She wanted to purr like a cat, but instead she moved back. Before she could retreat out of his reach he tilted her chin up so she had to meet his direct gaze. His eyes bored into her soul. “There’s something about you—I don’t know.” He bit his lip. It was the first time she’d seen any vulnerability about him and she found it meltingly seductive.
She couldn’t risk weakening. She put her guard back up and kept it firmly in place, reminding herself that he was a stranger, that she didn’t know him. “I told you, I can’t do that. I’m here to play cards, no more.”
“I love a challenge,” he murmured, and lowered his head.
The first touch of his lips against hers paralyzed her. Recognition—of what she still didn’t know—shot between them and she opened her mouth to protest, but he used it to his advantage and licked her lips before he slid his tongue into her mouth.
Now shock held her rigid. Nobody had ever kissed her like this. She hadn’t imagined it possible. She’d seen the caricatures in the shops with their sometimes explicit content, watched a man fondling a whore, seen mercenary transactions take place in the street—she’d thought herself reasonably au fait with sexual matters, for a virgin.
She’d been wrong. She knew that watching and experiencing were two different things but had never known it could be so devastatingly different. The intimacy floored her, and she could do nothing other than reach out for something to steady herself.
The memory of that other kiss—that disgusting, slobbering kiss George Barber had forced on her—returned in full measure. This didn’t compare, couldn’t. She wanted to press closer to Elston, not jerk away, put as much distance between them as she could. Nothing like that. If anything had told her that she couldn’t go ahead with marriage to George Barber, this did.
Corin cupped the back of her head as her hand made contact with his velvet-clad arm. She clutched it, praying for control as he took his time exploring her mouth, caressing her with soft strokes that made her heat up right down to the forbidden area between her thighs. He held her safe, didn’t move his hands or try to unfasten her clothing. One arm curved around her waist, the other over her wig. She wanted his hands under it, in her hair, cupping her head intimately. One of the strings of her mask loosened.
She jerked back, her hand going to her only protection against discovery. “No, don’t!” Her voice was breathless, whispery, but at least it still worked. As did her common sense.
“I want to see you.” He sounded as out of breath as she did.
“No, you can’t.” She reached up and retied the one string he’d managed to undo. Luckily the other one still held firm. He’d dislodged her wig, and she pulled it back into place, but he must have seen that she was a brunette.
“Why not? Will I know you?”
Having regained her composure, enough to confront him anyway, she shook her head. “It’s highly doubtful. But you might see me somewhere else.”
“And you’ve lost that accent. I knew you’d assumed it, but there’s still a tinge left. Are you a Londoner?”
Born and bred. “I’ve visited London a lot,” she said, hoping desperately to put him off the scent. She had to get out of here before he guessed more. Before he had her out of her clothes and spread out on the bed for his pleasure. How could she have been so stupid?
But she had to pass him to get to the door, and he caught her skirts. “A challenge, sweet Lucia. Just between us.”
“Because of the danger. Because you want a bit of excitement in your life.” If only he knew she’d have more excitement than she’d ever wanted soon. But she appreciated that he didn’t threaten her. He could have her barred from this house with very little trouble, but he hadn’t done it.
She turned around, willing at least to listen, but keeping some distance between them, as much as this small room would allow. He sat there in his splendid clothes looking every inch a prince. A wicked prince. He released his clutch on her skirt, and she resisted the urge to put her hand where his had just been, to touch the residual warmth. “Well?”
“Let me get to know you better. You intrigue me. Can you meet me, talk to me, with your mask and maquillage off? Can you look me in the face without your protection?”
“No.” She couldn’t do it. With no mask or makeup he’d see every expression on her face, and he’d know she was his for the taking, however hard she fought against it.
He leaned back, smiling. “A challenge, then. A bet, just between us, with no money at stake. If I recognize you and challenge you in public without your disguise, you promise to meet me at a place of my choice.”
He smiled. “I want you, sweet Lucia. I want to see your face while I’m making love to you.”
Before she could repress it an image flashed into her mind. Him, naked, admiring her naked body, kissing it, touching it. Oh she wanted it so much, but she couldn’t. Mustn’t. She held back her shock. Barely. “And what’s in it for me?”
His rich laugh filled the small space with joy. “I hope to give you pleasure as I’m taking it.”
She pulled out of his grasp, put her hand on the door latch. “I can’t.” Then she was gone, hurrying toward her servant, Frankie, as fast as she could without colliding with anyone or losing her foothold.